Trixie walked over to the rest of the Knights with an air of the cat the ate the canary (though Fluttershy would protest the figure of speech). Sunset and Twilight started clapping to her, and the other five soon joined them. Trixie bowed playfully.
"Thank you. Thank you. You all are too kind."
"Ya deserve it." Applejack spoke with a tone of finality "But there was one thing Ah don't understand."
"Speak, and Trixie shall enlighten you as far as she is able." The showmare said.
"How did ya know that ya would be able ta protect yerself using the powers of the enemy?" The earth pony asked.
"Oh, Trixie didn't know about that." The unicorn said simply, then continued upon seeing Applejack's surprised expression "Trixie's original plan was quite different, but once she saw how the abilities of that doe worked, Trixie decided to change things up." She touched her left shoulder with a hoof "After all, the original plan required much more physical effort, and Trixie's body is still hurting a little, so she decided that this was best."
"Haha." Rainbow Dash laughed "So that means this was pretty much a spur of the moment thing?"
"More or less." Trixie admitted "Trixie had vague ideas for things to do based on all sorts of situations, so she only had to bring a few of them together on a plan."
Everypony took in this new insight about how Trixie's mind worked. And then they had to get on the transport platforms again in order to go to the next arena.
After looking at the arena for the next challenge, everypony had a single thought:
'That is really small.'
And indeed it was. While most of the previous arenas could comfortably house a hundred ponies (though they would have to be able to fly in the case of Fluttershy's arena over the river), the present arena would reach its limit around thirty ponies in. It was again a circle drawn on the ground, except that there was no need to remove trees to make space for it, because it was small enough that it could be put inside one of the natural clearings of the forest.
Once again, Marching Water started announcing the challenge.
"I'm sure everyone present wants to know what this next challenge is going to be about, considering our arena doesn't give a lot of clues, right?" He started making suspense "Well, all those who are here know what weapons are, right? They are the tools created to allow their wielders to fight better, fight things they weren't able to fight before. Every civilization has their own weapons and variations on weapons. But if there is one weapon that can be considered the noblest of them all..." He paused for a moment "It is the sword."
The crowd started to roar, already understanding what he was getting at. He continued to speak "As such, it is with great pleasure that I announce the nature of this challenge... It shall be a duel of swords! A true battle of pure sword skill! A battle to honor the endless and limitless path of the sword!" Even he was starting to get affected by the atmosphere.
The other Knights looked at Rarity and saw that she had a disturbingly broad and out of character smile on her face. The kind of smile that would have been more at home on Pinkie Pie's face. Her eyes were literally shining with eagerness.
"Trixie guesses we don't need to wonder who to send for this challenge, regardless of whatever restrictions it may have." She nodded to her apprentice "Go show them what you're made off, Rarity."
Rarity hefted her Wind Ruler Sword in her telekinetic grip and walked to the inside of the circle, still keeping her gleeful expression on her face.
"Of course, this challenge also has its own special rules." Marching Water explained "But in this case, they are easy to understand. Neither combatant is allowed to use any sort of magic or abilities with the exception of what's necessary to manipulate their weapons. This shall be the purest contest of sword-fighting ability in the world." Then he looked to the circle "And it seems like Knight Rarity has been chosen to represent their side in this challenge. So, in this case, I should introduce the challenger!"
From the side of the deer, a buck came walking out. He had a green coat and golden eyes, but perhaps the most interesting detail was that he was actually carrying eight swords at once, in sheathes all over his body.
"The combatant we have here is Wing Cooler. He is widely considering to be the best sword user among all of the deer, who has gone on journeys in order to improve his abilities and ended up achieving numerous feats, to the point where the tales of his adventures became popular even outside of deer lands. He is the founder of the eight sword style, and many members of his dojo have come here to witness a fight between him and one of the Knights."
A few of the deer on the side the buck had come from piped up with cheers at being mentioned. Then both Rarity and Wing Cooler were facing each other, the unicorn with her sword held in a standard attack position, the buck having drawn his eight swords, who were lazily spinning around him in simple orbits, but together, they formed something that experts would recognize as a fairly amazing defense, with enough versatility to deal with all sorts of attacks.
"Now that both contestants are ready." Marching Water announced "It's time to... Start!"
Rarity decided to attack aggressively from the beginning, and sent her sword in a slash. Wing Cooler's swords were fairly small compared to hers (as in, they were normal sized), but he didn't let that scare him, being used to fighting. He sent three of his swords in a small formation and parried Rarity's sword to the left while he himself took a step to the right. And he didn't stop there, also sending two of his swords to stab at Rarity, one at eye height and the other at leg height.
The Knight obviously wouldn't let herself be defeated so easily. She brought her own sword back and used it as a shield, the handle pointed upwards. The two attacking swords tried to sneak around the defence but were beaten around by quick movements of the Wind Ruler Sword. However, that had only been a distraction, and from Rarity's right, the previous three sword defensive formation had sneaked around the long way to try and attack Rarity's back. At the same time, from Rarity's left, two other swords came slashing in out of rhythm arcs, denying the possibility of being blocked with a single strike.
Rarity's response to that was unorthodox. She struck the earth with the flat of her sword, creating a dust cloud that obscured the sight of her position. Wing Cooler immediately made his swords inside the cloud slash in a complex attack pattern, prepared to immediately strike at Rarity once he discovered her position due to one of his swords being blocked. However, it was not to be. Rarity was using the Wind Ruler Sword, and despite the fact she couldn't manipulate the wind with it due to the restrictions of the challenge, simply wielding the sword gave her a magical awareness of all wind in her surroundings, making it extremely easy to simply dodge every single sword. She charged out of the dust cloud together with her sword, prepared to attack the opponent who only had a single sword left to protect himself.
But Wing Cooler could also use unorthodox strategies. The jumped in the air and balanced himself in the handle of this final sword, like he was an acrobat, before flying up, trying to gain enough time for his swords to come back. But Rarity wouldn't make this easy for him. She jumped on the flat of her own sword and rode it like it was a board, getting closer to the opponent, before jumping off from the sword and allowing it to slash. Wing Cooler's response to that was also jumping off his sword, before using the handle to push himself downwards, increasing his falling speed and avoiding the attack.
That was when his swords arrived. He used four of them to press against the underside of his body and reduce his speed, so the impact with the ground was merely jarring. The other three were sent to attack the falling Rarity together with the sword he had been using to fly. They attacked four different points of her body, but the attack was simple and without any special movements to make it harder to dodge or block, since Wing Cooler was already reaching his limit with the level of precision that had been necessary for the previous feats. Because of that, Rarity was able to easily fend all of them off with a single slash, before moving her blade to slow down her own fall, showing the grace of her sword style.
That was when Wing Cooler decided to change tactics. He shifted to pure offense, by bringing all his swords back to float in front of him before making them slash at several different heights, angles and timings, all the while he moved just behind the blades in order to be able to provide the maximum possible amount of force to his attacks. And then the battle got several times more intense and hard to understand. Rarity choose to face her opponent using the exact same strategy as him, and that resulted in a chaotic mess of slashes, stabs, parries and quick movements as both sword wielders tried every single trick they could in order to hit their opponents. The buck attacked several different places all at once, while Rarity used the size of her sword and the power advantage of not needing to split her focus in order to retaliate with single slashes. Both of them started getting nicks and scratches from near misses, but that only seemed to inspire them to attack even more ferociously.
The crowd and even Marching Water himself had all fallen completely silent at the sheer degree of skill that was being shown in that fight, to the point that, when Rarity opened the range again with a helm-splitting slash and a jump backwards, several of them felt like they had been holding their breaths for a while.
And the reason why Rarity had done that, was because she understood that with the current tactics, this would become a simple battle of attrition, which wouldn't be very fun for those watching. Instead, she decided to reveal her trump card. It was something she could have used from the beginning, but Rarity was Trixie's apprentice, so of course she had to make things as dramatic as possible. And with a moment of concentration, she focused on her new sword, which would make its first public appearance at that very moment. And straight from within Pinkie Pie's mane, a sword came flying.
It was similar to Rarity's Wind Ruler Sword, with the same huge size and general shape, except that the runes on it were different, and the magic formations as well, and the sword seemed somehow more solid, like it had been made to resist anything.
"The earth upon where we all trod is the strongest support in the world! May this power be channeled by me, and the ground turned into my domain! This is the Earth Ruler Sword!" She announced.
Rarity slowly grinned. Of course she couldn't use the earth manipulation abilities of that sword in a contest of pure sword skill, but she had already tested the sword, and there was something special she could do now that she was wielding it. The same way the Wind Ruler Sword gave her a magical awareness of the air around her, the earth version did the same regarding the earth.
And so, Rarity actually brought the handle of the sword to her mouth before taking a step forwards.
"Clang!" Came the tremendous sound of clashing blades, because Rarity had suddenly moved 10 meters in an instant and Wing Cooler had barely been able to resist the attack from the sword held on the teeth of the unicorn.
And then she stepped again, going back to her previous position while slashing at her opponent with such strength that any normal blades would have been broken by the attack.
"Ah, she's Flash Stepping." Sunset recognized "This is usually an earth pony technique, since it relies on harmony with the ground, and even if an unicorn can have it, teleportation is just so much more convenient."
"How fast is she even going, anyway?" Applejack asked doubtfully.
"Not actually all that fast." Rainbow Dash said with the air of a conosseir "The impressive part is that she manages to go from zero to maximum speed and then back to zero in an instant and with extreme precision."
Twilight considered "First pegasus flight, and now earth pony techniques... Is she trying to become a budget alicorn or something?"
"That... Seems possible." Applejack admitted.
"It's the sort of thing she would do." Trixie agreed.
In the arena, the situation of the fight had completely changed. It wasn't enough that Rarity was now moving fast enough and doing sharp enough movements that it was difficult for the buck to even try to attack her, but Rarity still had all her telekinesis available since she was moving around with pure muscle power. So at the same time as Rarity was doing tremendously powerful straight line attacks at her opponent, her Wind Ruler Sword was also attacking with just as much ferocity and power as before. Wing Cooler was giving more and more ground, and he magical hold on his blades was getting less and less certain.
And instead of simply exhausting him, Rarity eventually decided to finish things off in style.
She got on her rear hooves and grabbed each sword in one of her forehooves. She prepared her attack while her opponent was trying to get his breath back now that her fierce attacks had temporarily stopped. She made both swords vibrate with her telekinesis and focused on her rear legs so that her step would be just as strong and precise even without using all four legs. She extended her forelegs to the sides, with the blades being horizontal.
"Two Sword Style: Horizon Cut!" She announced, and an instant later, the battle was over.
A terrifying sound of tearing metal swept through the area, and Wing Cooler went flying out of the circle, every one of his swords broken in pieces after he tried to defend from Rarity's latest attack. His body had a big cut through the middle. It wasn't something life-threatening, but the sheer shock of the attack had rendered him unconscious.
After her victory had been announced, Rarity walked out of the circle and went back to the other Knights.
"So... How much fun did you have?" Rainbow Dash asked eagerly.
"A lot of fun." Rarity answered with a smile "But perhaps it was too much. I don't think my body was quite ready for doing so many flash steps in sequence." She said, looking down slightly.
"Just rest for a bit, then." Sunset said "There's still time before the team challenge."
The next arena stage was also a place where the deer didn't need to remove trees. That was because the arena was set in a natural quarry. Marching Water quickly started explaining the challenge.
"When this place, full of high quality rock, was found by Slash Flower nearly two hundred years ago, she felt like she had found a buried treasure. And in honor of that, the challenge this time is Treasure Hunting!" He announced, then waited for the crowd to settle down a bit "But with a twist. In this quarry, we have spread thirty very special rocks with magical sigils, fifteen of them have the symbol of a pony, while the other fifteen have the symbol of a deer. These sigils will detect when the rocks are broken, and put marks on the sky to keep track of how many are destroyed. The first contestant to destroy all fifteen of his own marked rocks will win the challenge. It is forbidden to interfere with your opponent or their rocks in this challenge."
Having heard that, Sunset thought for a moment.
"Both Applejack and Pinkie Pie would do well in this." She concluded.
"Let Pinkie do it. Treasure hunting is a game, so she should have with it." Applejack graciously offered.
"Are you sure?" She saw the other nod "Thank you, Applejack!" Pinkie warped to her partner and gave her a back breaking hug (good thing the Knights were tougher than most ponies), before hopping to the mark on the ground which represented the starting point.
"It seems that Knight Pinkie Pie was chosen to represent their side in this challenge. And on the challenger side we have Glamour Sun!" Marching Water announced, and then kept speaking as the doe walked towards the starting point "She is an explorer of the underground caves that exist underneath our forest, and is famous due to her great power over earth magic."
Glamour Sun was a short and stout doe, with a yellow coat and orange eyes. She smiled at Pinkie when she got there, and then the two started charging their magic.
Pinkie Pie had discovered that her Emotion Charge worked better with a focus on a single emotion, but different from the fight against Chrysalis, she wasn't exactly angry at the moment, and it was difficult to force that emotion. However, some work allowed her to use Emotion Charge with other emotions without a problem, and in that case, she was using Joy.
Similar to the fight against Chrysalis, a colored aura of power appeared around Pinkie, but now that she was using joy instead of anger to power herself up, the color of the aura was pink instead of red. Meanwhile, Glamour Sun also powered herself up, except that she was more subtle, and the greatest indication of what she was doing was the pulse of magic that crossed the ground in the whole area of the challenge.
Marching Water was gloating inwardly again 'I don't know what that Knight things she will be able to do, but there is no way she will win. Glamour Sun can detect all her rocks immediately with her magic, and even if she manages to find the rocks fast enough, one of the pony rocks has a little surprise...'
Outwardly, he simply announced the start of the challenge "Three, two, one... Go!"
Glamour Sun immediately took off towards the closest of her own rocks, while Pinkie waited for a moment as she grabbed her mane with a hoof and pulled out a few strands of hair from it. She then threw the hair forward and activated her magic.
"Clone Technique, Go!" She released her power, and the strands of hair she had thrown turned into twelve copies of herself.
"Pinkie Squad, let's go!" All of them shouted, and then they blurred away, going in different directions.
"Can someone please tell me that Pinkie didn't easily duplicate the armor that I spent a lot of time into?" Rarity asked, fidgeting slightly.
"Don't worry, Rarity." Twilight reassured her "She only copied the form of the armor and used her chaotic powers to extend the effects to the copies."
"Ah." Rarity blinked "That actually makes me feel a lot better, thank you Twilight."
But Glamour Sun still ended up being the first to break one of her rocks, which sent a pulse of energy that made a deer symbol (the exact same symbol it had on the rock) appear on the sky above the quarry. And then she moved a little further and broke another rock, adding another symbol to the sky scoreboard.
Then one of the Pinkie clones found a rock with the pony symbol in a hard to see hole, and hit it with a chaos-infusing punch that made it shatter, sensing a pulse of magic that made the pony symbol appear in the air near the deer symbols.
And then the challenge shifted into high gear. Glamour Sun could make a beeline for each rock, and she was pretty fast, but the Pinkie's were many and their ability to shift made their mobility extremely great. It was to the point that Pinkie would probably win easily were it not for the fact that the pony rocks were all in fairly well-hidden locations, half-buried inside the earth, behind bigger rocks and even sometimes in hidden holes. There was also the fact that they were all different shapes and sizes, to the point where it wasn't easy to search for them. Despite the doe's early lead, Pinkie quickly caught up, and she actually surpassed Glamour Sun when she hit her fourteenth rock.
She had already found the last rock by the time Glamour Sun was destroying her fourteenth rock. It was the biggest rock yet, more of a boulder than anything else. Pinkie hit it the same way she had hit the others... and failed to even make a dent.
"Huh." Was the only reaction of the Pinkie clone. She briefly wondered how much effort the deer had taken to reinforce the rock to that point, because it was roughly fifteen times as resilient as a diamond. She would need something special to be able to destroy it quickly enough, considering that Glamour Sun was running rather fast towards her own final rock.
"Everypinkie to me!" She shouted. And all other Pinkies appeared beside her.
Then they made a formation around the boulder and started charging magic, before moving forward and hitting the target with continuous attacks.
"ATATATATATATATATA!" They all shouted as they punched, creating a weird sound effect. The boulder started showing a few cracks.
Then they turned back and bucked the rock all at the same time, increasing the cracks and making the boulder leave the ground.
"Pinkie...!" They shouted while doing it.
Before the boulder started falling, they moved below it and kicked it even further upwards.
"Pie...!" Their voices joined and became even louder than before.
And then suddenly the group of Pinkie clones and the real Pinkie Pie were standing in the air above the rock, standing in a way that made it look like they had reverse gravity. Then all the Pinkie clones joined their forehooves and gave a boost to the original Pinkie, in a jump down directly at the boulder.
"COMBO!" She shouted, and hit the boulder with such strength that it completely turned into powder, instead of merely breaking.
Glamour Sun, who had already raised her hoof to destroy her last rock, looked over with a sigh.
Pinkie and the Pinkie clones briefly celebrated by themselves as she was declared the winner, before looking at the doe.
They had an idea.